Did someone use the phrase 'caught red-handed' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
If someone is 'caught red-handed,' it means they were discovered in the act of committing a crime. The phrase implies that there is clear evidence that the person is guilty, as they were witnessed by another person in the act of wrongdoing.
When someone says that they 'caught you red-handed,' they aren't necessarily accusing you of some heinous crime. In most cases, in casual conversation, the meaning will be jocular and light-hearted.
For example, let's say your best friend is trying to leave you flowers for your birthday outside your front door. She hopes you won't see her making this gesture, but you happen to walk out to get the paper at the same time. You could use the phrase:
Though many idioms undergo significant changes in meaning over the years, 'caught red-handed' has maintained the same definition for quite some time.
The first time our idiom was used in print shows up in Scottish Acts of Parliament of James I from 1432 and was afterward used in Scottish legal proceedings to describe people who were caught in the act when committing a crime.
There is another origin story regarding this phrase. This one comes from a Northern Irish myth from Ulster. In the story, the next king was to be chosen based on the results of a boat race.
According to the rules of the game, the first person to touch the shore would be crowned king. One man was so determined to become king that he cut off his own hand and threw it to the shore.
The first recorded use of the phrase 'taken red-handed' to describe someone who was apprehended when found actually committing a crime shows up in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe from 1819.
One of the earliest examples that shows up using the Ngram Viewer is from the 1890 text Cobbett's Parliamentary Debates. In this publication, we find the following phrase:
"So that you have in the same Court a land-grabber guilty of stabbing let out on his own recognisances, though he had stabbed a man, and a Town Councillor sentenced to six months' imprisonment merely for cherring some prisoners. I can prove to the House cases in which men have been caught red-handed in willful murder, and let off by these very Crown Solicitors."
Another example appears in Munsey's Magazine in a story called "Blue Pete's Escape" from 1906:
"Out on the street the safe-blowers were marched, with certain doom before them. They had been caught red-handed, and punishment would be sure and swift. At the corner the patrol-box was rung, and they waited in grim silence."
How would 'caught red-handed' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'caught red-handed'?
Here are some options:
If you get 'caught red-handed,' it means that someone discovered you committing some type of wrongdoing. This phrase can be used seriously or in jest and is thought to stem from 15th-century Scotland.
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